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Internships as a High-Impact Practice: Some Reflections on Quality

O'Neill, Nancy. Peer Review; Washington Vol. 12, Iss. 4,  (Fall 2010): 4-8.

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Before joining AAC&U, I worked at a large university as a program director and counselor in career services, focusing much of my time on helping students identify their interests, figure out the connections between their academic majors and future careers, and test out these interests and connections experientially, most commonly through internships.

The beauty of internships is that they can serve different purposes for different students. For those students just beginning to figure out their choice of major and career interests, an internship can help them to become aware of the many different kinds of organizations comprising "the world of work," build early professional experience, and sometimes discover what they don't want to do. For those students who are clearer about their career interests and academic pursuits, an internship can help them apply what they are learning in "real world" settings, gain more substantial professional experience, and begin to develop a network of people in fields that interest them.

For both types of students, internships can challenge them to take an active role in charting both their short-term and long-term plans. Following an internship, some students add a second major or use their elective credit to complete a certificate or minor. Some change their majors completely Regardless of the paths students eventually take, internships can help students understand in a profound way that college is a time to explore their interests, clarify their values, and test their knowledge and skills in new settings.

This is the ideal scenario, anyway. It is true that for a number of the students I worked with, internships provided a high-impact learning experience that integrated learning and real-world experience. At the same time, I also met many students who landed in my office precisely because their internships lacked direction and meaningful work. These students, frustrated...